It is Dundee Science Festival and the University archives have been Tweeting about the history of Life Sciences at the University. It’s 50 years since the first Chair of Life Sciences, Peter Garland, took up his post and since then the School has become one of the leading life sciences research institutions in Europe, regularly topping national and international league tables.

Life Sciences have been taught since the early days of University College Dundee in the 1880s. 24 year old D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson was the first Professor of Biology in 1884. His work at Dundee would become known across the world.

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A big step in the development of Life Sciences came in 1940 with the appointment of Dr R P Cook Lecturer in Biochemistry in the Dept of Physiology. He quickly developed Biochemistry teaching and Dept was renamed Physiology and Biochemistry.

For many years the department was based in this building, which had once been used as stables! Cook’s work meant that by 1966 had Biochemistry grown to such an extent that it became a department in its own right with Cook at its head.

In 1967 work began on a new building which would house Biochemistry and Anatomy. This would be known as the Medical Sciences Institute. Today it forms part of the much larger Life Sciences building complex.

After lobbying by Prof Cook a Chair in Biochemistry was founded. The first holder, appointed in 1970, was the award-winning researcher Peter Garland. He further built up the department and attracted top academics and researchers.

An early Garland recruit was (Sir) Philip Cohen in 1971. His pioneering work over the last 49 years has attracted academics & students from across the world. His role in the development of the reputation of Life Sciences cannot be understated.


In 1977 Philip Cohen became the first Dundee winner of the Colworth Medal, awarded annually to an outstanding Biochemist under35 in the UK. Since then several University academics have won the award including Dario Alessi (pictured) & Pete Downes.

Professor Adam Neville, Principal 1978-1987, saw Life Sciences as an important part of the University’s future and was instrumental in ensuring its funding and development.

In 1997 the Wellcome Trust Biocentre was completed. Providing state of the art facilities for Life Sciences, it further boosted the University’s status as an international leader in the field. Donald Dewar, Profs David Lane & Pete Downes are pictured at its opening.

2006 saw the creation of the College of Life Sciences under the leadership of (Sir) Pete Downes (who in 2009 became Principal). 2006 also saw the launch of the Sir James Black Centre.

More recognition of the leading role played came in 2013 with the creation of a Regius Professorship in the subject. (Sir) Michael Ferguson became its first holder.

Please get in touch with the University Archives if you have any memories to share – archives@dundee.ac.uk

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